Start Collaborating Now for America Recycles Day With These Steps

Girl looking at camera and holding plastic bottles for recycling

Global collaboration has been a focus for me in our library program. To me, global collaboration goes far beyond one-time connections and moves students, teachers and libraries toward collaborative relationships with schools around the world. Global projects can focus on real-world problems that students can have a significant impact on in their world.

Our school participates in a green-school initiative with our local recycling department; teachers implement multiple environmental lessons throughout the year. One of our teachers came to me with a seed idea to participate in America Recycles Day. The initial idea was to read environmental stories with each grade level and possibly do some type of activity. But this idea had so much potential for global collaboration and authentic student action that we wanted to take it to the next level. Together we decided that we would have students connect with schools around the country, share environmental stories, exchange authentic recycling problems in our schools or communities, and offer feedback to one another to implement new recycling strategies in our own spaces.


America Recycles Day is November 15. The intent is to have one day to educate about and motivate recycling for the entire year. I wanted our connections to take place on more than one day. I knew that I needed to start planning with other schools as early as possible. I created a Google Doc for librarians and other educators to share their America Recycles Day schedules and make connections with one another. The Doc included information about America Recycles Day, possible activities we might do together during a connection, a list of possible books to read and a space to add schedules. I changed the sharing settings so that anyone could edit the Doc to add activity or book suggestions as well as schedules.

Creating the Doc was not enough. I had to heavily promote its existence and encourage people to share their schedules and connect with other libraries. I crafted a blog post to explain why I thought recycling was an authentic way for us to connect our students and make a difference. I also shared the Doc on multiple forms of social media. On Twitter I used hashtags such as #tlchat, #edtech and #edchat. I also posted the Doc in various Google+ communities, such as GlobalTL and Connected Classrooms. I reposted regularly on these outlets to reach as many people as possible.

Teacher-librarians began posting their schedules and making connections. As schools signed up on my schedule, I began contacting them via Twitter, Google+ or e-mail to plan what book we would read together and what we might do during our connection.

In my school, I advertised the opportunity to classroom teachers via e-mail, and they signed up on the same Doc. I assured teachers that all they needed to do was sign up and show up at the specified time — I would take care of the rest. However, many chose to start dialogues with students about recycling before coming to the library.

Since our goal was to share an authentic recycling problem during each connection, our school had to identify a problem. We reached out to the environmental education committee and an enrichment cluster to investigate and name our problem. We learned that many classrooms were still throwing things away that could be recycled, even though a recycling bin is in each classroom. Also, sometimes the recycling truck had difficulty emptying our large recycling dumpster because cars were parked in the way.

using_padlet_to_collaborateDuring the connections, I wanted to have a collective space where we could post ideas about our school recycling problem. I wanted it to be a digital space that anyone could add to, including the schools we connected with. I chose to create a padlet. (To learn how to set up a padlet, download “Using Padlet to Collaborate Beyond Walls.” I made the padlet public for anyone to post to and shared it with each connecting school ahead of time. I also shared it with teachers who were coming for connections in the library so that they could continue the conversation in their classrooms beyond our lesson in the library.


Each connection was unique in its own way. This is one of the things you must understand about collaborating long distance. Each school, library, and classroom is different, and it is hard to do the exact same thing during every connection. I’ve learned to have a general plan but to be ready for the unexpected opportunities that come up. The only things I confirmed in advance with each connecting school were our time, our contact information, and the book or topic we would each share. I added each contact to Skype or Google+ in advance, so that making the virtual call would be faster.

Two third-grade classes connected with Kathy Schmidt and her students in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Kathy’s students shared how they collect items into various bins to use in the library tinker lab. Rather than recycling them, they reuse items to make something new. This was eye-opening to my students. Our library has a makerspace, but we weren’t reusing discarded items as Kathy and her students were doing. I love that connecting with other schools gives you a different perspective and helps you think outside of your daily routine.

A second-grade class connected with Cally Flickinger in South Burlington, Vermont. We took turns reading pages from Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter. Our students had a conversation about how quickly trash could take over the world if we threw every single thing away. This story built some foundation for why we need to recycle or reuse in the first place.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Another second-grade class connected with Donna Macdonald in South Burlington, Vermont. Donna’s students picked a literature connection for a recycling problem in their school. After reading The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Donna’s students decided that something needed to be done with all the bits of leftover crayons that are tossed aside or thrown away. They already had several ideas, but my students were able to offer them even more, such as making candles, melting them into multiple-color crayons and melting the crayons into artwork.

A fourth-grade class connected with Cathy Potter and her students in Falmouth, Maine. Cathy’s students used the screenshare feature in Skype to share a Google Presentation about the composting program in their cafeteria. My students learned the intricate plan their school has for collecting food scraps and other items to incorporate into composting bins. Our school currently does not have a composting program, so this once again gave my students something new to consider.

These were only a few of the many connections we had during a full week in November. During every connection, we shared our recycling problem with our connecting school and asked them to add ideas to our padlet. We also took time while in the library and in the classroom to add our own ideas to our padlet.

Next Steps

We had to decide what to do with the ideas that were collected on our padlet. We shared the padlet with our environmental education committee as well as some student enrichment clusters to decide what our school might do next. One idea that came up multiple times was placing better signs on our bins to show students what items can be recycled. Thanks to the Athens-Clarke County recycling department, every bin got a new sign. We also wanted to make sure that classrooms and custodians knew the proper procedure for getting recycling from the classroom to the recycling dumpster, so new training took place and some of our fifth graders took charge of overseeing the afternoon recycling.

As a result, our school went from last place in our district for recycling to first place. Our county recycling department came to our school and worked with our students to create a recycling video that was shown to every school in the district and now plays on our local TV station.

Continuing to Connect

In the future I hope that connections like these will lead to follow-up connections so that our students can build relationships and accountability with the schools we collaborate with. It was hard to follow up with so many schools, but if we focused on a few, we could see what happened in those schools as a result of our connections, and we could share our progress with them.

Miraculous things happen through these types of connections beyond walls:

  • We saw that we weren’t alone in our problem. People around the globe struggle with our same problems, and there’s often more than one way that people are working to solve the same problem.
  • We learned how different recycling can look from place to place. Some schools had to really work hard to recycle but were doing a better job than us. Our recycling is single-stream and extremely easy, yet we weren’t doing a great job of recycling. This perspective was eye-opening for all of us.
  • We realized that recycling wasn’t the only answer. Other schools were reusing discarded items rather than putting them in the trash or recycling them.
  • We saw that by working together with multiple people we can come up with numerous out-of-the-box ideas.

I encourage you to think about the authentic opportunities for connection and learning you have within your school. How could students connect with other schools around a common problem or project? How could a collaborative relationship develop between your school and another? Give it a try! I guarantee that you and your students will be richly rewarded with the perspective that connecting beyond walls can bring.





Andy Plemmons

Andy Plemmons

School Library Media Specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary
Andy Plemmons is a Google Certified Innovator and school library media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA. His library program is grounded in transliteracy, participatory culture and students as creators of content shared with the global community. He makes his work public through his blog. He can be reached on Twitter @plemmonsa and email.